Tipsiness and ‘the Reigning Stupefaction’ in the British Fiction of the Late 1940s

  • Joe Kennedy


What did drunkenness mean for modernist fiction? Was it a state into which its characters fell, an understandable or even reasonable answer to the exigencies of alienated ennui, or was it a handy metaphor for its own textual strategies, an index of stylistic, chronological and lexical derangement? Was drunkenness what modernism represented, or was modernism drunk? The answer to these questions, of course, must be that both sets of propositions are true: the modernist novel and short story frequently drew a picture of the drunkard, but they also used that drunkard’s drinking as a spur for their own poetics. Consider, for example, the conclusion to Malcolm Lowry’s spectacularly dipsomaniacal Under the Volcano (1947). Here, the protagonist, the apocalyptically drunk consul Geoffrey Firmin, whose wife has just been killed by a frightened horse, is shot by a policeman and thrown into a ravine to die. As he is carried off to the ditch, he is gripped by an ecstasy of vacuity:

Opening his eyes, he looked down, expecting to see, below him, the magnificent jungle, the heights, Pico de Orizabe, Malinche, Cofre de Perote, like those peaks of his life conquered one after another before this greatest ascent of all had been successfully, if unconventionally, completed. But there was nothing there: no peaks, no life, no climb. Nor was this summit a summit exactly: it had no substance, no firm base. (Lowry, 1967, p. 375)


Firm Base Reasonable Answer Textual Strategy Alcoholic Experience Disruptive Negativity 
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© Joe Kennedy 2015

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  • Joe Kennedy

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